Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Students Urged to Maintain Heritage of Black Aviators

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Students Urged to Maintain Heritage of Black Aviators

Article excerpt

When students from the Gateway Institute of Technology met Christopher Newman last week, they met aviation history.

About 25 juniors and seniors in the Air Force Junior ROTC program talked with Newman in front of Lambert Field's mural honoring blacks in aviation history. Newman, a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War, is especially familiar with the mural. Not only is he pictured on it, but so are several of his classmates, teachers and friends.

"You are talking to living history here; so pay attention," Gateway aerospace coordinator Col. Raymond Massie told the students. "You've got to carry on this heritage."

Newman, 72, is a graduate of the Tuskegee Experiment. Before World War II, blacks were barred from Army and Navy flight schools. With the onset of the war and the need for pilots, flight training was set up for blacks at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Graduates of the program, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were formed into the Negro Air Corps. They distinguished themselves in World War II as members of the 99th Fighter Squadron. Several panels of the Lambert mural depict the Tuskegee Experiment.

Newman moved along the mural, identified notable people and added his perspective as the students gathered around him.

C. Alfred Anderson, the first black commercial pilot, was one of Newman's instructors at Tuskegee. Although near 90, Anderson is still active at Tuskegee.

Daniel "Chappie" James, the first black four-star general, was Newman's classmate at Tuskegee. But James advanced so rapidly through the training that "I never caught up with him," Newman says.

James' roommate, Robert London Smith, was an extraordinary engineer, Newman says.

"If he heard a P-39 warming up on the runway and it was missing, he could tell you which cylinder on which band was missing," Newman said.

Benjamin O. Davis took flight training at Tuskegee after studying at West Point.

"He got the silent treatment the whole time he was at West Point," Newman said.

However, Davis was an inspiration to his fellow students at Tuskegee.

"He was tall; he was hard; without him, I don't think we would have made it," Newman said. …

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